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ADW.Launcher for Android hands on: attractive and highly customizable, but bloated

Sitting like rough and tawdry monarchs atop of the Android home screen and app launcher pile are LauncherPro and ADW.Launcher. We've reviewed Zeam Launcher, and looked at Go Launcher and QuickDesk, but somehow the two big boys have always escaped our critical eye. Well, no more!

Today we're going to look at ADW.Launcher. It's a free download, but there's an 'EX' version that will cost you about $3. It shares a lot of its features with Zeam -- and its looks are somewhat similar, too -- but ADW is a lot more customizable. There are also a healthy number of ADW themes from third party developers, which provide easy access to 'unique' and sexy home screens.

Right then! Roll up your pants, it's time to wade in.


Smooth

In many ways, ADW.Launcher feels like a bigger brother of Zeam. Swiping between each of the five home screens is smooth, and you can zoom out, just like Zeam -- but instead of double tapping, you tap the Home button. You get a dock at the bottom which works just like Zeam's, but instead of being able to scroll you're limited to just five docked shortcuts.

ADW supports gestures, too. By default, swiping down expands the Notification Bar, meaning you no longer have to aim for that tiny sliver of grey at the top of the screen -- hooray! Swiping up hides the Notification Bar entirely. You can re-bind both swipes to other actions, if you like -- but for some reason, double tap isn't available with ADW; boo.

ADW.Launcher for Android: attractive, but bloated


More options than you could ever possibly need

Usually I would take screenshots of the config pages, so you can check out just how configurable an app is... but ADW would require about 10 screenshots -- so, suffice it to say, ADW is really customizable.

Of course, the problem with options and choices is that you have to choose the right one. How is a first-time user meant to know the best "Page Horizontal Margin", or how many milliseconds the "Zoom effect speed" should be? To be honest, ADW's mindbogglingly massive menu system scares me. It uses terms like "App Drawer", "Catalogs navigation", "Desktop overshoot" and "Action Buttons" -- and I could only begin to guess what one of those things is. Basically, to configure ADW, I had to resort to trial and error -- but when you don't know what to look for, it's hard to see the effects of a config change. Infuriating.

The crazy thing is, there isn't even a link to the documentation on the AppBrain site. Suitably irked, I headed to xda-developers (by far the best resource on the Web for Android-related issues, incidentally) to see if anyone else had had the same problem. Sure enough, there's a Complete Guide To ADW. If you're going to install ADW after this review, please read it.


Themes

The only real reason to use ADW over Zeam, it would seem, is themes. AppBrain has 421 matches for "adw theme", and while I'm sure some of them are awful, there are plenty of good ones too. If you're a theme junky -- if you're the kind of person that loves having a visually stunning and/or unique display on their smartphone when you whip it out in public -- ADW is surely the launcher for you.

Bloated conclusion

All in all, it's perhaps no surprise that ADW's burgeoning feature set make it a bit bloated. It feels slower than Zeam or the stock Android 2.1 launcher. It takes longer to appear after closing a program, and it's simply tiring to go through each of the many options to find out what they do. One of our commenters, Nyar, even noted that ADW has the tendency to hang for a few seconds on phones with slower processors.

Unless you are after ADW's extensive theme library, then, Zeam is the better option.

Tags: adw, adw.launcher, android, app drawer, AppDrawer, hands-on, home screen, HomeScreen, launcher, mobile, open source, OpenSource, utilities

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